Five questions when choosing a lawyer

The legal sector has always been a worry to many people because of the opaque prices, and it’s going to become more complicated with the impending Legal Services Act.  

There will be more choice, new regulators and many new firms launching. While this has many benefits, it also has the problem that many businesses appear to be manned by qualified and properly-regulated lawyers, when in fact they are using inexperienced people or less-stringent regulation.

The most important steps you should take to make sure you get a good solicitor are:

Is your lawyer is a qualified and properly regulated solicitor? To make sure the firm is using solicitors (after all, if you are paying for legal advice you want it from a highly-qualified professional) it is important to make sure they are regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority. This can be done by asking to see their practicing certificate or by checking online

Is your lawyer is properly insured? Solicitor firms should have professional indemnity insurance of at least £2m to protect clients in case they make a mistake and cause you to suffer a loss. This is important as currently the insurance market for solicitors is very difficult and some are not able to get insurance. To make sure they are properly insured, ask to see their certificate. (Lawyers that cannot get insurance use insurance from the Assigned Risks Pool. This scheme is a last resort but it does give the customer protection in case of a negligence claim. However, it’s a bad sign about the firm that they’ve had to use it.)

Do you have a detailed list of rates and charges? Make sure you take control and get all fees quoted and documented up front, as you don’t want to be hit with a large bill or unexpected charges. Ask for a breakdown of what is involved for the cost. Also, enquire what happens if the lawyer has under-quoted for the amount of time they will need to complete your case. Many solicitors will now carry out work at fixed prices.

Do you know who will actually carry out the work? At a solicitor’s office you will meet the partner, but is it him or his secretary that will actually do the work? Also ask what arrangements are in place if he/she is away and something comes up. Find out if the firm is part of a larger network that can provide support and assistance in case there is a gap in experience, knowledge or workload.

Does the firm have good risk management procedures? You should make sure a firm has stringent procedures in place to make sure it doesn’t make a mistake or miss something. Ask if they have an up-to-date membership of The Law Society’s Lexcel Scheme or the Conveyancing Quality Scheme in place, or alternatively if they have other processes in place to ensure the quality of service.

Gary Yantin is managing director of legal network High Street Lawyer.

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